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Clemson precedent shows Georgia can return to College Football Playoff and win

Clemson precedent shows Georgia can return to College Football Playoff and win

Clemson precedent shows Georgia can return to College Football Playoff and win

Clemson precedent shows Georgia can return to College Football Playoff and win

georgia-Georgia Bulldogs-Kirby Smart-College Football Playoff-Bulldogs return

ATHENS ― The parallels between what Georgia is doing and what Clemson has done are uncanny.

There is not an emotion that the Bulldogs or their fans are feeling that the Tigers did not experience two years ago. Clemson made it to the National Championship Game following the 2015 season in the second year of the College Football Playoff and pushed perennial powerhouse Alabama to the brink. But Dabo Swinney’s Tigers came up short, losing 45-40.

Clemson also fell victim to some of Nick Saban’s masterful in-game calls. The Tigers led heading into the fourth quarter. But after Alabama tied the game at 24-24 with 10:34 left in the game, Saban took a gamble and called for an onside kick to try to keep the ball away from Clemson’s red-hot quarterback, Deshaun Watson. It worked. Marlon Humphrey recovered and the Crimson Tide quickly scored on a 51-yard touchdown pass to give them a lead they’d never relinquish.

But Clemson never went away. The Tigers stayed right on Bama’s tail until the very end. The outcome wasn’t decided until Clemson’s onside kick attempt sailed out of bounds with seconds left in the game.

Clemson players and fans were devastated. It had been 34 years since the program’s last national championship. They felt like victory was in their grasp, and they let it slip away.

Georgia players and fans can relate. On Jan. 8, the Bulldogs led 13-0 at halftime and 20-10 heading into the fourth quarter before finally falling to Alabama 26-23 in overtime of the National Championship Game. What made the loss even harder to take was that the Tide’s winning score came on a 41-yard pass on second-and-26 with Georgia leading by 3.

In Clemson’s case, the Tigers made it back to the National Championship Game following the 2016 season, but this time the Tigers vanquished the Alabama monster. They won 35-31 to secure the school’s first football national championship in 35 years.

The question now is this: Can Georgia do the same thing? Can the Bulldogs finish first after finishing second? And would they need to go through Bama again, whether that be in the SEC Championship Game or the playoffs?

The answer is yes. And Clemson stands as precedent.

Larry Williams is in the perfect position talk about the similarities and differences in Clemson’s latest run of success and the one that many are predicting for the Bulldogs. Williams once covered UGA athletics as a newspaper beat reporter. Today, he is a senior writer at TigerIllustrated.com, the Rivals website dedicated to covering Clemson. He also wrote a book chronicling the Tigers’ 2015 season, Clemson Tough: Guts and Glory Under Dabo Swinney.

Williams said what Georgia did in 2017 and in the National Championship Game in particular is reminiscent of Clemson’s 2015-16 run. And, lest we forget, the Tigers were in the College Football Playoff again after last season.

“It was nothing like Georgia experienced with the officiating; that’s a big difference,” Williams said with a laugh. “There’s reason for Georgia fans to continue to be ticked off for the next few weeks and years, really. It was nothing like that for Clemson. But after the initial devastation of how close they came, the (2015) season still retained that sort of magical quality and the fans and the team came away thinking, ‘Wow, we were right there on college football’s biggest stage.’ ”

To this point, Georgia has matched Clemson only in terms of losing to Bama in the title game. The key now is getting back into the playoffs for a second consecutive run. And that’s much easier said than done.

To start with, the Bulldogs lost to graduation or to the NFL draft 11 players who started against Alabama in the CFP final in Atlanta. Seven of those players come from the defensive side of the ball, including Butkus Award-winning linebacker Roquan Smith.

But if it’s any consolation, so did Clemson. The Tigers lost their top two defensive ends, who were first- and second-round NFL draft choices, a couple of interior defensive linemen, their starting inside linebacker, their top cornerback and both safeties.

“They lost a ton of talent,” Williams said. “They just sort of reloaded because they had been recruiting so well.”

Sound familiar? Georgia has been recruiting exceptionally well under coach Kirby Smart. In fact, if one puts any stock in recruiting rankings, the Bulldogs are recruiting even better than Clemson did in its lead-up to three consecutive playoff berths.

The Tigers finished 11th, ninth and 16th in the 247Sports composite team recruiting rankings in the three years leading up to winning the national championship. That’s an average of 12th. Georgia has posted recruiting classes ranked first, third and sixth in the last three seasons, an average of 3.3.

“We can talk all we want about the motivation and the intangibles and all that stuff. Really, it’s about the horses,” Williams said. “Clemson beat Alabama [in January 2017] because they had Deshaun Watson and Mike Williams and Jordan Leggett and Wayne Gallman. They just put playmakers on the opposite side of the ball, and that’s what it takes. That’s why they couldn’t beat [Bama] the third time.”

That talent infusion is why everybody is pointing to the Bulldogs to repeat as SEC East champions in 2018. But that’s just part of the equation.

Williams pointed to the motivation of opposition as another obstacle that must be overcome.

Clemson managed to repeat as ACC champions and make it back into the playoffs, but it wasn’t easy. Clemson struggled early in the 2016 season. The Tigers barely beat Auburn, had to fight like mad to beat Troy in their own stadium and lost to Pittsburgh. They squeaked by Louisville and Florida State, and Virginia Tech, although a heavy underdog, gave Clemson all it could handle in the ACC Championship Game.

“It was kind of a struggle for them all year,” Williams said. “I remember one of their coaches telling me that they were adjusting to that target on their chest. That’s something that Georgia is going to have to deal with and experience as well. Clemson in ’15 and Georgia’s season last year both had that sort of magical quality; they were doing a lot of things for the first time. It’s just a different deal when everybody you’re playing watched you play in that championship game.”

Georgia is proud to be in the position to wear that target. And with the pedigree of athlete Smart has brought to Athens during these last three recruiting classes, it’s one the Bulldogs could wear for a long time.

The post Clemson precedent shows Georgia can return to College Football Playoff and win appeared first on DawgNation.

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Georgia Sports News

  • ATHENS — Their situations are decidedly different. Then again, they’re much the same. Both Roquan Smith and Trent Thompson are juniors, so both had a year of eligibility at Georgia remaining when they decided to turn pro in January. As we understand it now, Smith toiled terribly over the decision. Thompson, by contrast, never really had a doubt. Yet, as they sit a month away from the NFL draft, it’s only Smith who seems assured of NFL riches. Nobody seems to be sure what to make of Thompson’s fortunes. He’ll get drafted, certainly, but how long he may have to wait is a matter of much debate. The buzz at Georgia’s pro day on Wednesday was that Thompson is looking at a third- or fourth-round call at best. Smith, by contrast, has been invited to the NFL draft ceremonies in Arlington, Texas, and projects as a top-15 pick. That was pretty much the feedback Smith, the 2017 Butkus Award winner, received when he filled out his underclassman evaluation application from the NFL back in December. Yet he insists his decision wasn’t the no-brainer that many of his Georgia teammates described. “Top 15 is pretty special,” said Smith, who led the SEC in tackles and the Bulldogs in sacks and tackles for loss, as well. “I knew I’d pretty much be a first-round pick; that’s what they were telling me. But, at the end of the day, it wasn’t even about that for me. It was more about the things I enjoy [at Georgia] and what we did together. It was special, very special. It’ll definitely be something I miss, but life goes on and you have to do what’s best for you.” Lorenzo Carter, Nick Chubb, Davin Bellamy and Sony Michel all chose to return in 2017 for their senior seasons for much the same reason. However, none of them received the level of draft grade that Smith did. Their feedback was similar to what Thompson heard. But these decisions aren’t based solely on draft grades and contract potential. There also can be extenuating factors. Thompson, a 6-foot-4, 295-pound defensive tackle from Albany, has been inundated with injuries throughout his college career. He had shoulder surgery a year ago and struggled with knee injuries last season. He also had a rather high-profile medical episode in February 2017 that resulted in his hospitalization and withdrawal from school. Not only did the incident create health concerns for Thompson, it also put him in a hole academically. Whether he would have been eligible to play another season for the Bulldogs is unclear. But most believe it was time for the player affectionately known as “Big Jolly” to make the jump to the pros, anyway. “Everybody has their own things going on,” said Bellamy, who also worked out for scouts Wednesday. “We don’t know what’s going on at home for a guy that may influence their decision. For Roquan, man, it was a no-brainer. I kind of felt like with him there was nothing else to prove. But I’d say the same with Trent, really. He was a three-year starter here. He put his body on the line for his team. It gets to a point where you have to be a little selfish, thinking about yourself and your career.” Thompson certainly arrived at UGA with more fanfare. In fact, when he signed with the Bulldogs out of Albany’s Westover High, he was the No. 1 overall prospect in the country, according to the composite rankings compiled by 247Sports. Thompson lived up to that billing at times. By the end of his sophomore year, he was almost unblockable. He definitely was for the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, earning both overall and defensive MVP honors with 8 tackles and 3 sacks. He’d finish the season with 56 total stops. But between recovering from shoulder surgery and battling a knee sprain, Thompson’s snaps decreased in 2017. He ended up alternating with sophomore Tyler Clark, who emerged as a star in his own right. Thompson missed two games and finished with 38 tackles, 3.5 of those for loss. “He’s been pretty beat-up,” Bellamy said of Thompson. “But he has three years of good film in the best conference in America and he’s been dominant all three of those years. I think he’s going to do pretty good at the next level.” Most everybody agrees about that. In all these cases, Georgia players who are considering making the jump early consult Kirby Smart as well as their position coaches. But they also look to sources outside the football program. The key is arriving at an informed objective opinion. “I tell them whatever that ask,” Smart said. “We’re advocates for our players and we want to do a great job for them. Trenton’s certainly done tremendous job for us since being here. He’s pushed through a lot of injuries and he’s a great kid. We wish him nothing but the best.” Smart was asked whether he thought Thompson would benefit from another year in college. “That’s not my decision,” he said. “Our job as coaches is to get them information. That’s what I always try to do. Whether they decide to go or decide to stay, it’s the same thing. You arm them with ammunition. I’ve got to give them all the information. Information is power. And then they do with the information what they want. That’s the best thing we can do as coaches.” Thompson seemed to struggle through some of his drills Wednesday. He appeared to be favoring his right leg whenever was asked to do timed runs and dummy step-overs, as well. Smith had a nearly flawless workout, even though his status indicated he need not even bother with participating. He didn’t do any of the physical testing but went through position drills with Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Lions coach Matt Patricia presiding. For as much fuss that is being made about him now, it’s hard to believe Smith ever considered coming back to Georgia one more year. “He was real close,” Smart said. “He had several moments where he was leaning toward coming back, several moments he was leaving. Again, that’s not my decision. All we do is give them the information we get and try to educate them with that information. He did a great job of handling it.” The post Same decision, different draft scenarios for Georgia juniors Roquan Smith, Trent Thompson appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — As Georgia likes to say, it was a good day to be a Bulldog. It was quite a scene in the House of Payne on Wednesday. That’s the new affectionate nickname of Georgia’s indoor practice facility, officially named the William Porter Payne and Porter Otis Payne Indoor Athletic Facility earlier this year thanks to a recent $10 million donation. On Wednesday, however, it might well have been called NFL Central. On one side of the 102,000-square foot facility were dozens of NFL team representatives — all 32 teams were present, many sending their head coach. On the other side were dozens of media types meticulously covering the proceedings, the SEC and NFL networks broadcasting live. And in the middle were 21 matriculated Georgia football players displaying their wares in hopes of fulfilling their lifelong dreams of becoming NFL players. A bunch of them will. Most projections have at least eight Bulldogs getting selected in the 2018 draft, which would tie for the most in program history (2008). But it could go north of that. Several players who did not get one of the team’s 10 invitations to the NFL combine last month performed — and performed well — on Wednesday and could hear their names called in April. And even if they don’t, there is bound to be at least a few who make teams as undrafted free agents. The Bulldogs have made that somewhat of a specialty (see David Andrews of the Patriots). All that’s good news for Georgia. There are many who have taken issue with the Bulldogs for coming up short in their pursuit of national titles for the last couple of decades. But there can be no complaint about the consistency with which this school and this program turn out professional football players. And, lest we forget, that is the core of the college mission — to prepare young people for professional careers, be it in football, chemistry or business administration. There was a downside to Wednesday’s proceedings, however. There is the reality of what it means for the current Georgia team. There is, in fact, a ton of talent heading out from beneath those famed arches. That notion was most starkly on display when New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and new Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia — Belichick’s defensive coordinator the previous five seasons — oversaw the linebacker workouts. The four prospects that they were putting through the paces were Davin Bellamy, Lorenzo Carter, Reggie Carter and Roquan Smith. That’s Georgia’s entire starting linebacker corps through the College Football Playoff run (and for most of the 2017 season). That’s a lot for any one team to replace in one season. Then again, it’s what you shoot for as a program. “I’m kind of used to it,” said Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who was at Alabama nine years before joining the Bulldogs. “To be honest with you, when you sit back and look at all the good players you’ve been able to coach over your career, they all have to be replaced by somebody. Today is really about [the NFL hopefuls]. It’s an honor to say we got to coach them but it’s even better to get to watch them do what they love to do and they get to do it in front of a wonderful audience. I mean, who gets to do linebacker drills with Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia?” The moment wasn’t lost on the participants. “It was great getting advice and technique tips from those type of guys who have been in the business for a long time,” said Smith, who projects as an early first-round pick and will attend the NFL draft ceremonies in Arlington, Texas, next month. “That was definitely big. I’m a student of the game, college and NFL, but obviously everybody knows who Bill Belichick is.” Smith, the Butkus Award winner, made quite a statement by just being willing to go through the workouts. He projects as a top-15 draft selection and already went through this process at the NFL combine in Indianapolis last month. Meanwhile, he had lunch with the Chicago Bears’ brass Tuesday and is about to be jetted around to meetings San Francisco, Buffalo, Indianapolis and New York. Nonetheless, Smith said he wanted to be there Wednesday at UGA’s Pro Day. It has gotten to be a tradition, a thing, as evidenced by the presence of Jordan Jenkins and a half-dozen other Bulldogs alums currently drawing league paychecks. “It’s very exciting,” Smith said. “You only get to go through this process one time in life. So I’m just soaking it all up and taking advantage of everything.” And while Smith really had nothing left to prove, others, such as Javon Wims, felt like they did. The Bulldogs’ leading receiver was invited to the NFL combine and did every possible exercise there. But he did everything in Athens, as well, and it appears to have paid off. He caught every pass thrown his way during position drills, then bettered his marks in the broad jump and 40-yard dash, improving to 4.47 seconds from 4.53 in the latter. “That’s why we come to Georgia,” Wims said of the massive scout turnout on their home turf. “Guys want to come here to have this opportunity, to be embraced by all these scouts. I wanted to come in and show them that I had the whole [wide receiver] skill set and I think I did that.” That’s why Smart was beaming Wednesday. Even though he knows he’s losing a ton of talent from his roster, he knows their dreams are being realized while also fueling the dreams of future Bulldogs. “I think it’s honorable what they’ve done,” he said of the 21 soon-to-be-former Bulldogs. “They’ve been a great group and they’ve been really special to Georgia.” The post For Kirby Smart, Georgia’s massive pro day a validation of good work done by all appeared first on DawgNation.
  • Braves third baseman Johan Camargo may start the season on the disabled list. Manager Brian Snitker said a decision will have to be made in the next couple of days and he’s leaning in the direction of DL. Camargo has been out just over a week with a strain in his right oblique/lower back area and hasn’t faced a pitcher since March 13. Never miss a minute of what’s happening with the Braves. Subscribe to myAJC.com
  • ATHENS, Ga. – It began when Bill Belichick walked to a corner of the Georgia indoor facility. The area cleared, and the four players gathered around him. At first, it looked like it would just be a nice brief opportunity to meet the New England Patriots coach. But then it kept going. Over the next 20 minutes the coach considered by many to be the most accomplished coach in NFL history personally ran drills with the four Georgia starting linebackers during its playoff run: Roquan Smith, Lorenzo Carter, Davin Bellamy and Reggie Carter. “Control the block. Don’t get off it. Control it,” Belichick said, calmly but firmly guiding the four linebackers through one drill. “Knock it out. Finish. Finish!” Belichick said at another point. Belichick’s aide during the drill: Matt Patricia, the new Detroit Lions coach who had been the New England Patriots’ defensive coordinator. The occasion was UGA’s pro day, which turned into a public mini-tryout for Georgia’s now-former linebackers with the most recognizable, and accomplished, coach in the NFL. “It’s crazy. It’s kind of surreal,” Lorenzo Carter said. “Growing up I was a Pats fan. So seeing Bill, having Coach Belichick work us through drills it’s cool. But it’s what we work for.” It wasn’t a surprise that Belichick, who politely declined an interview request afterward, was in attendance. He’s come before; he personally worked out offensive lineman David Andrews in preparation for the 2014 draft. Andrews went undrafted, the Patriots signed him as a free agent, and Andrews just started a second straight Super Bowl. This time the star power at UGA was quite evident: Smith headlines a draft class that could be the best in Georgia history, with as many as five players projected to be selected in the first four rounds, including three who could go in the first round. Four NFL coaches attended: Belichick, Patricia, Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis and Atlanta’s Dan Quinn. So did personnel people, including Falcons’ general manager Tom Dimitroff, who lauded the four Georgia linebackers. “It’s such a talented group,” Dimitroff said. “They’re big guys who have range. When you talk about Lo Carter or you talk about Roquan, those guys can fly. Their range is so important for our defense.” “It’s an honor to say we coached them, but it’s even better to see them do what they want to do,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “And to do it in front of a wonderful audience. I mean, who gets to do linebacker drills with Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia?” The somewhat-impromptu session happened near the end of the pro day. When Belichick has attended in the past he has mostly watched. The NFL draft process is so cloak and dagger, with teams not wanting other teams to know who they’re working out or what they’re thinking. This, however, was in full view of everybody. Which doesn’t mean the Patriots are about to select one of those four. (They’d have to trade up from their No. 31 overall pick to get Smith.) Smart opined it was just about Belichick wanting to be involved. “I know he’s got a passion, he loves the game, he loves coaching,” Smart said. “So it’s a chance for him to get out there and coach guys and make them better – and evaluate talent.” It led to one accidental moment: Smith knocked over Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni, who was assisting in a drill in which linebackers are asked to jump from a stance and push off. Bellamy and Carter had done so without incident, but when it was Smith’s turn, he knocked the 68-year-old Pasqualoni to the ground. “I don’t know what I did, if I hit it a little awkward or anything to make him flip like that,” Smith said. “But I was just trying to get a work in.” Smith was asked if he apologized. “No I didn’t apologize,” Smith said with an incredulous smile. The day wasn’t all about those four starting linebackers and their very public tryout. Georgia had 22 players working out. A few other notables: Javon Wims, the team’s leading receiver last year, said he improved his time in the 40-yard dash, from 4.53 at the NFL combine last month to 4.47 on Wednesday. Punter Cameron Nizialek boomed some punts into the roof at the indoor facility. Tailbacks Sony Michel and Nick Chubb caught some passes but didn’t run or lift. Aaron Davis, the four-year starter in the secondary who was snubbed for an invite to the NFL combine, tried to make up for it, showing scouts his speed and catching ability. But the highlight was the four linebackers working with the legendary head coach. They were what Smart called “recognition drills” that are more standard for a team practice, and typically aren’t done at the combine. Belichick was very hands on, running with the players during part of the drills. When it ended, the four linebackers gathered around, and Belichick extended his hand. “Thank you. Thank you,” Belichick said, shaking each of their hands. Smith later played the session off as no big deal. (“My job is to get the work done, and that’s end of it,” he said.) And so did Bellamy. “Everybody’s going to be like, ‘Whoa, that’s Bill Belichick.’ But at the end of the day he’s here to work me out,” Bellamy said. “And any coach here that’s here to work me out I’m going to give 110 [percent] for. So I was just locked in and giving it all I had.” The post The day Bill Belichick personally worked out 4 Georgia linebackers appeared first on DawgNation.